‘Everyone is an expert about their life’

Jhilmil Breckenridge on her NGO’s ongoing mental health and neurodiversity festival.

Published: 07th September 2019 09:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2019 11:45 PM   |  A+A-

Snapshot of a group activity during the previous edition of Project Reclamation, an event in Delhi on generating awareness about mental health through art and culture

Snapshot of a group activity during the previous edition of Project Reclamation, an event in Delhi on generating awareness about mental health through art and culture

Express News Service

My journey into the mental health space comes from my personal experience with sexual trauma and domestic violence which left me unstable for a while,” opens up Jhilmil Breckenridge, co-founder and managing trustee of Bhor Foundation. This Delhi-based NGO aims to “empower and inspire individuals to live with any state of mind and celebrate neurodiversity in all its forms.” The foundation is set to launch its second edition of Project Reclamation, a two-day event in Delhi which celebrates mental health through art and culture.

How did you arrive on the concept of this festival?

From having faced forced incarceration myself at two mental health institutions in Delhi myself, I think it’s really important to have these kinds of festivals that challenge popular ways of looking at mental ‘illness’. I believe it is imperative to create these linkages between trauma and mental health, also known as the trauma informed approach. That is one of the reasons I started Bhor Foundation, about three years ago, along with our co-founder, Namarita Kathait. 

In fact, I am so against the ‘illness’ lens because it implies the problem is with a person and the onus is also on them to take medication or find other ways to heal. I prefer calling it a psychosocial disability, implying a problem with the environment, society, government’s policies, past trauma, etc. We have a lot of conversations on whether there is any ‘normal’, why ableism is a problem, and how ‘mad’ is a political term if you choose to identify with it.

Above all, I believe in a person’s right to choose – the right to choose a label, be it biomedical or not, the right to choose treatment and what kind of treatment, the right to live in society with their altered states of mind. We also strongly resonate with the UNCRPD (United Nation’s Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and are striving to let people know what their rights even are.

How is Project Reclamation different from other initiatives woven around the theme of mental illness?

In a country like India, often the voice of parents and spouses are louder. It is vital to put the affected person at the fore and build recovery and coping strategies around them. After attending and speaking at several festivals and conferences which had various ‘experts’, be it psychiatrists, psychologists, art therapists etc., on the panel, I found it essential to put people with lived experience of mental health distress on the podium as experts.

What are the major highlights of the festival?

As an artist, writer and poet, I find that art has the ability to transform people. That is why our festival has art woven into its fabric. From a poetry writing workshop by Manjiri Indurkar from Jabalpur to an open mic at the end of the festival where we invite the people and young poets to share their words as well.

We are really excited about screening, Love In The Times of Madness. that explores gender, patriarchy and madness through the young protagonist, Atasi. Atasi is coming from Punjab to converse with the audience after the film. We are having a mini book launch of Side Effects of Living, an anthology edited by Namarita and myself which has been received really well. This launch will tell the audience why championing lived experiences matters and what we hope to achieve by publishing books like these.

In its second edition now, what is your ideology for the festival?

We believe we are creating a community which inspires people to be open and political about their label or condition. The days of hiding behind labels need to be over. Self-care, choosing a more mindful life, creating coping mechanisms, being aware of your rights... all of this is the order of the day. 

What is The Listening Circle?

It is Bhor’s unique non-hierarchical peer support programme that has been running in Delhi and Bengaluru for over a year. We have four circles that meet every few weeks for two hours, typically on weekends, to discuss and share feelings, for the first hour, and after that do an activity like write poetry, create art, etc.

Where: Hotel Regent Grand, East Patel Nagar
On: September 7 & 8Tickets available: insider.in and instamojo.com

The Listening Circle

Bhor’s unique non-hierarchical peer support programme that has been running in Delhi and Bengaluru for over a year now. There are four circles that meet every few weeks for two hours, typically on weekends, to discuss and share feelings like, ‘how are you doing’, etc. for the first hour, and after that settle into an activity like writing poetry, creating art, etc.

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